Why Women Are Leaving the Cybersecurity Space

Chloé Messdaghi
Jul 13, 2018 · 4 min read
Image taken from 2018 Day of Shecurity Conference

Women only account for 11% of the workforce in cybersecurity. 34% of doctors are women. 36% of lawyers are women. 16% of our our armed forces are women. Coming from a nonprofit background, which is an industry with a pretty even proportion of men and women, to working in cybersecurity space is so unbalanced. It’s disheartening and disappointing for it to occur in 2018.

Since entering the cybersecurity space, I’ve connected with dozens of women in the field, and many after spending years in cybersecurity are leaving the field. From their shared experiences, there seemed to be a similar experience in being the only woman in the room when it came to training courses within cybersecurity and networking events, making them feel as though they stick out since it’s usually a male dominated space. Even at cybersecurity conferences, women are rare as attendees and speakers, such as the RSA conference where only 1 out of 20 keynote speakers are women. This left me wanting to research further about why there is not a greater number of women in the cybersecurity space.

In 2013, it was reported that only 11% of the cybersecurity space were women. And today, it is still at 11%. According to Frost & Sullivan, their prediction shows there will be an increase in the gap between qualified professionals and unfilled positions to over 1.8 million by 2022. While men outnumber women by 9:1, the trend is even more pronounced in senior roles, such as directors, executive management, and C-Suite level executives. Women seem to often only occupy entry-level and non-managerial positions within cybersecurity, as seen from the breakdown below:

1% C-Suite Level Executive Positions

1% Executive Positions

2% Director/Middle Manager

2% Manager

5% Non-Managerial Staff

1% Entry Level

On a global scale, men are 4x more likely to hold C-Suite level executive positions and 4x more likely to have executive positions, and 9 times more likely to hold a managerial position. It is important to note, this is most likely not to do with education levels in cybersecurity. If anything, 51% of women have Masters degrees compared to 45% of men. There is only a 6% difference between men and women holding a computer and information sciences undergraduate degree. Yet, there is an 8% difference between men and women with engineering and engineering technologies undergraduate degrees. The total global divide between men and women with undergraduate technical degrees is about 70% for men and 56% for women.

Besides education levels, the other possibility of why less women are in cybersecurity is the discrimination that holds the glass ceiling strong — by seeing no movement in job titles and or not seeing enough women rising in the organization. 51% of women have experience discrimination versus men at 15%. Discrimination can be even more prevalent when a woman rises in the organization. Women influencers shared there are times they experienced discrimination by being asked to take down notes in meetings because she was the only woman in the room. As well as, overhearing instances hearing that women aren’t technical enough to be considered an executive from C-Suite level executives.

So, how can we change the dynamics? One theory seemed consistent: start encouraging and exposing girls to cybersecurity as an option to build up an awareness of the many possible opportunities to participate. Even the SANS Institute shared that they have found girls having all sorts of opportunities, but they think or say, ‘I thought it was a field for boys.’

The other possible way to change the percentage of women in cybersecurity space is supporting women’s educational and training growth by providing them with the financial means and encouragement to attend courses. Another important aspect to touch on is having equal pay and equal opportunities for climbing the ladder, such as promoting women within the company.

If we want more women in the field, we need to start promoting women into executive and C-Suite executive level positions, and have them sitting on organization boards. Studies show that by supporting women in their careers in leadership and skill enhancement courses, women felt a higher satisfaction at work and increased their performance, and in return, should be able to raise higher in the organization. We should question ourselves on what are we doing to improve the situation and challenge our own personal biases and prejudices for a fair workforce full of equal opportunities for all.

And lastly, it’s a reminder that we all need to try our best to change the 11% statistic by increasing exposure and encouragement of all women of all ages, and really take a look at what every person can do within and outside the cybersecurity organizations to promote women.

Learn more about me @ ChloeMessdaghi.com

Chloé Messdaghi
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